Predatory people are leaving the aid sector, says international development secretary

Penny Mordaunt tells a committee of MPs that the work of her department since the Oxfam scandal has made the sector less of an easy target for sexual predators

Penny Mordaunt (Photograph: Getty Images)
Penny Mordaunt (Photograph: Getty Images)

- This article has been updated; see final paragraph

There is evidence that "predatory individuals" are leaving the international aid sector because of the approach taken by the government after the Oxfam scandal, the international development secretary has told MPs.

Speaking at the International Development Select Committee yesterday, Penny Mordaunt told MPs that because of the work of the Department for International Development in addressing allegations of widespread sexual misconduct in the aid sector, the sector was seen as less of an easy target for sexual predators.

"If you are a predatory individual and you have been targeting the aid sector, your time to move on is now," Mordaunt said.

DfID has taken a tough line with international development charities since the Oxfam scandal, in which the charity was criticised for its response to allegations of sexual misconduct by staff members in Haiti in 2011.

Mordaunt told MPs that DfID wrote to 179 charity sector partners about safeguarding to ensure that best practice was adopted. She said the department would take a tough line with charities that prioritised their image over the needs of victims of sexual misconduct.

"I’m not going to take a dim view of an organisation that takes a course of action to protect a victim from further trouble," she said.

"That is a very different issue to people making a judgement about letting an individual off the hook because it would damage their fundraising opportunities."

Mordaunt said she wanted assurances from charities about historical cases and an explanation of why they might not have reported incidents to authorities in other countries.

She called for beneficiaries to have more of a voice in international aid charities so they would feel able to "give feedback, speak up" and report mistreatment.

Ahead of an international summit on safeguarding in the aid sector, which will be held in October, Mordaunt said she wanted to see "tangible action". She praised the level of engagement with DfID on the issue from some smaller aid organisations.

Peter Taylor, head of the safeguarding unit at DfID, called for smaller organisations that might be struggling to afford stronger safeguarding measures to "be up front" with DfID and "make clear what they need".

Taylor said that the levels of safeguarding required would depend on each charity’s work and the vulnerability of its beneficiaries, but they would have to meet DfID’s standards to continue to receive funding.

Also speaking at the committee, Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission, said there had been "encouraging" engagement by charities in addressing safeguarding weaknesses since the Oxfam revelations broke in February.

But Russell said there was still more for charities to do and change on safeguarding was "about leadership in charities, a change in culture, a change in environment and doing the basics that the public expect".

Helen Stephenson, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said that charities should "step up".

She said that "policies and protocols are important", but charities should prioritise creating a "culture and leadership in an organisation that sees safeguarding and keeping people safe as one of the key priorities".

Stephenson said she "would expect charities to include the cost of ensuring their people are safe in any bid or programme they put forward", and the commission was working with the Association of Charitable Foundations to ensure that grant-givers considered an applicant's safeguarding processes when making funding decisions. 

- The story originally said the commission was working with the ACF to ensure that safeguarding functions were funded by grant givers. 

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